Why The Internet Can’t Stop Raving About Tranexmic Acid

The brightening skincare ingredient can tackle hyperpigmentation.

As far as brightening skincare ingredients go, vitamin C is an A-list star. However, there are other effective ingredients that can treat post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation from acne, sun damage, or melasma that deserve some time in the spotlight, too. 

Tranexamic acid is one such ingredient having a moment, with more and more skincare influencers and beauty brands shining light on its benefits and including it in product formulas. While tranexamic acid can be effective on its own, it works even better as an ensemble with other dark spot-fighting ingredients such as vitamin C, kojic acid, niacinamide, and more.

What Is Tranexamic Acid? 

“Tranexamic acid is a synthetic form of lysine, which is an amino acid needed to make proteins,” says Dr. Shari Marchbein, board-certified dermatologist in NYC. “It works by decreasing the production of melanin and we know that the oral form is much more effective at treating melasma than topical form. That being said, serums and other products that contain this ingredient have a lot of potential to help improve hyperpigmentation.” 

The ingredient originally was used as a hemostatic agent to help blood clots, but recently has been utilized as a brightening ingredient to help minimize hyperpigmentation as well as melasma.

What Are the Benefits of Using Tranexamic Acid? 

One of the major benefits of tranexamic acid is that it plays nice with other brightening ingredients, so you can really zero in on hyperpigmentation. 

“There are many treatments for dark spots and these often work well together including licorice, niacinamide, kojic acid, tranexemic acid, retinoids, chemical exfoliants [such as glycolic acid, an alpha-hydroxy acid], and more,” Dr. Marchbein says. The dermatologist often recommends serums with tranexamic acid and other brightening agents be used in the same routine for the ingredients to work synergistically to improve post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation and melasma. 

Tranexamic acid is also a safer, effective alternative to hydroquinone, a potentially irritating bleaching ingredient. “There aren’t many options when it comes to safe, effective skin lightening bioactives,” says Krupa Koestline, clean cosmetic chemist and founder of KKT Consultants. “Hydroquinone is banned in the EU and restricted in many countries due to its safety concerns. Tranexamic acid has shown promising evidence as a plasmin inhibitor and therefore an effective treatment for UV induced discoloration, dark spots, and redness.”  

What Are the Side Effects of Tranexamic Acid? 

All skin types can use tranexamic acid, but like adding any other new ingredient to your skincare routine, it’s best to do a patch test to ensure you won’t experience irritation. 

It’s also important to wear SPF when using tranexamic acid, along with other brightening ingredients, because the sun can make hyperpigmentation darker. 

“Remember that before you spend your money on antioxidant serums, brightening ingredients, and retinoids to improve the tone of your skin and hyperpigmentation, the most important and first step is diligent daily sun protection,” Dr. Marchbein says. “It is key to reduce the appearance of brown spots (otherwise you are literally throwing your money away).” The dermatologist recommends a broad-spectrum SPF 30 or higher should be applied to the face, neck, and ears every day — even in the winter.

How Do You Add Tranexamic Acid to Your Skincare Routine? 

Dr. Marchbein says to use tranexamic acid once or twice a day. “I also layer tranexamic acid containing serums over Vitamin C serums and under SPF in the morning and under retinoids at nighttime, so this can safely and effectively be combined with multiple other actives.”

The active can be found in serums, moisturizers, and toners, so it’s entirely up to you what step of your routine in which you want to incorporate it. 

That being said, Koestline says serums are a popular way to go. “Most people do like using actives in their serum layer since you’re applying it before other products.”

Shop Tranexamic Acid Skincare Products:

SkinCeuticals Discoloration Defense

Dr. Marchbein is a fan of this serum by SkinCeuticals, which she often recommends to patients treating post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation and melasma. It’s infused with tranexamic acid, along with kojic acid and niacinamide, another two tried-and-true brightening ingredients. 

To shop: $98; skinceuticals.com

Peter Thomas Roth PRO Strength Niacinamide Discoloration Treatment

In addition to niacinamide, the all-star cast of Peter Thomas Roth’s discoloration treatment includes tranexmic and kojic acids, alpha arbutin, and pentapeptide. The lightweight cream can be applied twice a day on clean skin and is best followed by a moisturizer. 

To shop: $88; sephora.com

Joanna Vargas Bright Eye Hydrating Mask

Puffiness? Dark circles? Dryness? Crow’s feet? This eye mask by celebrity facialist Joanna Vargas checks all the boxes. It’s powered by brightening tranexamic acid, collagen-boosting matrixyl, soothing allantoin, and hydrating licorice root extract. 

To shop: $60/5; dermstore.com

La Roche-Posay Glycolic B5 Serum

In this dark spot-fading serum by La Roche-Posay, tranexamic acid is paired with exfoliating glycolic acid to even out skin tone. Use it alone or add a few drops to your favorite moisturizer.

To shop: $40; amazon.com

The Inkey List Tranexamic Acid Night Treatment

If post-breakout dark spots, hyperpigmentation, or dullness are your main skincare concerns, try swapping your usual moisturizer for this overnight treatment. Powered by tranexamic acid, vitamin C, and acai berry extract, it targets areas of discoloration and boosts overall radiance. 

To shop: $15; theinkeylist.com

SkinMedica 2.0 Lytera Pigment Correcting Serum 

Dr. Marchbein says SkinMedica’s Lytera 2.0 serum is another great option for treating discoloration. It combines tranexamic acid with niacinamide, phytic acid, phenylethyl resorcinol, and a marine extract blend to improve the appearance of hyperpigmentation without drying out skin.

To shop: $154; dermstore.com

INSTYLE article

The Best Retinol Products For A Well-Timed Skin Reboot

The long, dark days of winter are officially behind us, but the effects may linger in the form of dull, lackluster skin. Fortunately, the seasonal shift brings a sense of renewal, the welcome shedding of layers—and there’s no reason that should stop with your wardrobe.

“Spring is an ideal time of the year to start incorporating retinol into your routine,” says Onyeka Obioha, M.D., a dermatologist in Los Angeles. She joins a perpetual chorus of experts championing the ingredient as a means to brighter, smoother skin. Plus, she adds, “in warmer months, people are able to better tolerate it.”

For the uninitiated, retinol and other derivatives of vitamin A (together, they fall under the umbrella category of “retinoids”) count among the hardest-working ingredients in the skin-care realm. Vitamin A offers a multitude of benefits for skin: Thanks to its ability to speed cell turnover and spur collagen production, it can help smooth out wrinkles and fine lines, brighten dark spots and discoloration, and even quell breakouts. (The prescription-strength form called tretinoin—known by its brand name, Retin-A—originally launched as an acne medication before people realized its broader utility.) “When it comes to visibly improving the texture and appearance of your skin while preventing signs of aging, retinol is unmatched,” says Austin-based esthetician Renée Rouleau

There is a common downside. Because the ingredient is so powerful, explains Rouleau, “it can also come with unwanted side effects, like dryness, flaking, irritation, and sensitivity, for a lot of people, especially during the first four to six weeks.” (Retinoids are not advised for those who are pregnant or nursing.) Although over-the-counter forms of retinol tend to be milder than the derm-prescribed counterpart, it’s still wise to wade in slowly. Obioha recommends starting with a pea-size amount three nights a week, then gradually increasing from there. Following up with daytime sun protection is of utmost importance, since retinol can increase skin’s sensitivity to sunlight.

Even if you’ve had a touch-and-go experience with retinol in the past, recent formulations designed with tolerance in mind offer an incentive to dip back in. There’s no better time for a fresh start.

Shani Darden Retinol Reform Serum

Created by Los Angeles aesthetician Shani Darden, this cream combines retinol with lactic acid and anti-inflammatory niacinamide. It’s a strategic pairing, with the lactic acid delivering immediate smoothing and hydrating benefits while retinol gets to work from within.

Shop $88

StriVectin Super-C Retinol Brighten & Correct Vitamin C Serum

While vitamin C certainly has a starring role in many retinol products, it doesn’t always match the power of a dedicated vitamin C serum. Not so with this dual-action serum, which offers that dream team at high concentrations to improve skin tone and texture.

Shop $103

La Roche-Posay Effaclar Adapalene Gel 0.1% Topical Retinoid Acne Treatment

If you’re experiencing acne lately, you’re not alone. “Warmer temperatures and an increase in humidity can cause buildup on the skin, which clogs pores and can result in breakouts,” says Obioha. This powerful treatment uses adapalene, which is the sole prescription-strength retinoid available without an Rx, to help maintain a clear complexion.

Shop $30

Dermalogica Retinol Acne Clearing Oil

As protective face masks are still de rigueur, so is maskne. Retinol can help. “It can work to increase skin cell turnover and unclog pores,” says Obioha. Salicylic acid in this oil offers acne-fighting benefits on the spot, while the retinol works to prevent future breakouts.

Shop $80

RoC Retinol Correxion Line Smoothing Night Serum Capsules

Concentration isn’t the only thing that matters in a skin-care formula—potency does, too. These sealed, biodegradable capsules keep the combination of retinol and antioxidants fresh and at peak efficacy until it’s applied to the skin.

Shop $25

Murad Retinol Youth Renewal Night Cream

Why settle for one type of retinol when you can have three? This potent cream consists of a fast-acting retinol, a time-release version, and a retinol booster for peak efficiency. Lest your skin starts to feel dry just reading that, not to worry: Niacinamide gives it proper credibility as a calming night treatment, too.

Shop $82

Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Retinol Oil

To amp up the power of this night oil, retinol is paired with salicylic acid, which is prized in its own right for its ability to gently lift dead skin cells. In practice, this ultimately clears the way for retinol to better penetrate—in turn yielding results in as little as one week.

Shop $23

IT Cosmetics Hello Results Wrinkle-Reducing Daily Retinol Serum-in-Cream

Retinol is uniquely equipped to handle signs of aging. “Retinoids actually build collagen and thicken the dermis layer of the skin, which makes the skin appear plump and healthy,” says Obioha. This hybrid formula pairs both free and encapsulated retinol molecules—the better to reach multiple layers of skin—with soothing niacinamide.

Shop $69

Clinique Smart Night Clinical MD Retinol Serum

Fine lines and deeper wrinkles can’t be blamed on a single culprit. Conversely, their treatment approach isn’t singular, either. That’s why this serum combines retinol with a collagen-boosting blend of peptides, vitamin C, and botanical extracts, which together work to firm and smooth skin.

Shop $70

VANITYFAIR article

How CeraVe Became The Budget Skincare Brand Beauty Editors Go Wild For

It’s difficult to articulate exactly what makes a universally beloved beauty product, but whatever it is, skincare brand CeraVe has it. Having launched in 2006 in the US and finally arrived in the UK in 2018, few faces that have tried a CeraVe product have not liked it. Before it crossed the pond, British beauty journalists were known to return from work trips to the US towing suitcases loaded with CeraVe products. Now, it’s the fastest growing brand in health and beauty, with a total estimated retail value of over £31 million.

Over Zoom, one of the founders of the brand, Tom Allison, explains that a big clue to its success is in plain view on the utilitarian packaging. “Under the CeraVe logo, it says ‘developed by dermatologists,’” he says. “In 2004, we brought together a panel of dermatologists who are considered the world experts in ingredient formulation design and asked them what they would create were they to start a skincare brand themselves. They pointed us to ingredients called ceramides.”

At the time, skincare fell into one of two camps: so gentle it wouldn’t disrupt sensitive skin, or so thick and occlusive that skin had no option but to not dry out. Ceramides, which had been extensively researched and scientifically supported by clinical papers, offered a solution to these two extremes, and one that would work for all skin types. “If you imagine the skin is a brick wall, skin cells stack up on top of each other like bricks, and there is mortar that holds the cells together. Half of that mortar substance in skin is comprised of ceramides,” explains Allison. “Put simply, you don’t lose water through the skin cells themselves, but rather through the cracks between them – also known as barrier dysfunction.”

The CeraVe range is built on ceramides, which explains where the “Cera” in its moniker came from. The “Ve”, meanwhile, comes from MultiVesicular Emulsion (MVE), a clever delivery technology in each formula that escorts ingredients to exactly where they need to be within the skin – no mean feat given our skin is a defence machine that doesn’t let any old thing through its walls. “It delivers six times the amount of active ingredient to skin, in comparison to an identical formulation without MVE – and it’s patented and exclusive to us. [Skincare] brands that just have water as an ingredient in their dropper bottle formulations? There’s no thought into the actual delivery of the ingredients into the skin,” Allison says.

Allison and his team understand that today’s customers can see through a poor formulation. In this hyper-connected age, we are more skin-savvy, understand the specific benefits of each and every ingredient, and know what the skin needs. As a result, transparency is king. “Our product development process gives us a leg up, since the dermatologists we partner with are considered subject matter experts when it comes to ingredient and formulation designs,” says Allison. “Transparency drives trust with the consumer.” 

Since a lot of skincare now comes with a lofty price tag – and sometimes for dubious formulas – CeraVe’s affordable, efficacious (and luxurious) formulas are refreshing. All products – even the jumbo sizes – cost less than £20, with the bestselling Hydrating Cleanser a steal at £15 for a large 473ml bottle. “CeraVe delivers performance while still driving accessibility,” adds Allison. “We define accessibility in two ways: easy to find at your local store or e-commerce site, as well as value for formulation design and size of format.” Big tick on both counts. 

Since the brand puts an onus on creating a product that appeals to dermatologists – its “most important customer” – it’s not just the formulas that are important, but how easily their clients can get hold of them. If a dermatologist is to recommend a product to a client to use consistently, they need to know it’s affordable and easy to find – especially since most clients are paying to visit the dermatologist in the first place, and will often be forking out for prescriptions, too. Accessibility also comes from the fact that there is a formula for every skin type, race and age.

The brand can afford to sell its excellent formulations at a great price because it forgoes the big budget celebrity advertising and paid influencer posts that so many brands subscribe to. Instead, it lets the products speak for themselves, and ultimately, word of mouth is the biggest driver of sales. You only have to take a quick glance at TiKTok to see thousands of videos offering organic testimonials and before-and-after photographs featuring the brand’s products. “We are not making as much money as other skincare brands, and L’Oréal [which bought the brand in 2017] knows that, but it’s okay because we perform and that’s really all that matters,” says Allison.

So, what to try first from the brilliant budget brand beauty editors can’t get enough of? Well, if this article hasn’t already communicated just how brilliant the cleansers are, then it’s not done its job correctly. The Hydrating Cleanser is an excellent all-rounder that effectively and gently removes make-up and grime, leaving all skin types happy and hydrated. The recently-launched Hydrating Cream-to-Foam cleanser, meanwhile, is designed for those who like the sensation of a foaming formula, but with the sensibility of the hydrating cleanser – it uses amino acids, rather than surfactants, so won’t strip the skin like most foaming formulas do. Oily skin types will love the SA Smoothing Cleanser thanks to the 0.5 per cent concentration of salicylic acid, which gently exfoliates clogged pores. 

The rest of the range is brilliant, too. Everyone should have a Facial Moisturising Lotion in their repertoire, whether their skin is acneic, and even the Salicylic Acid Foot Cream is a must-buy.

CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser

CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser was developed with dermatologists to cleanse and refresh the skin without over-stripping it or leaving it feeling tight and dry. CeraVe Hydrating Facial Cleanser is a gentle face wash with ingredients like three essential ceramides and hyaluronic acid, to help restore the skin’s barrier and retain hydration. It also includes the patented time-release MVE Delivery Technology for all-day hydration. This non-comedogenic face wash is an effective yet non-irritating way to start off any skincare regimen for normal to dry skin.

Buy on Amazon $23

CeraVe Smoothing Cream

A salicylic acid cream is an effective way to improve skin texture by exfoliating, softening and smoothing very dry skin. From scaly skin on the legs to bumps on the backs of the arms, smooth skin starts with eliminating dead cells. The ideal cream for rough skin contains salicylic acid, lactic acid, hyaluronic acid, niacinamide and ceramides. We recommend a hypoallergenic, non-irritating moisturizer like CeraVe SA Cream for Rough & Bumpy Skin to help improve skin texture.

Buy on Well.ca $20

CeraVe Moisturising Cream

CeraVe Moisturizing Cream acts as both by effectively hydrating as it helps restore the skin’s protective barrier. Developed with dermatologists and ideal for dry and very dry skin on the face and body, this rich, non-greasy, fast-absorbing moisturizing cream features three essential ceramides, hyaluronic acid and the patented time-release MVE Delivery Technology for all-day hydration. Suitable for sensitive skin, this oil-free and fragrance-free ceramide cream also helps the skin hold on to moisture while improving its look and feel.

Buy on Amazon $8

Hydrating Cream-to-Foam Cleanser

Developed with dermatologists, CeraVe Hydrating Cream-to-Foam Cleanser begins as a cream before transforming to a soft foam when you begin to lather it on the skin with water, and effectively removes dirt and makeup without stripping the skin’s natural moisture or leaving it feeling tight and dry. This gentle, fragrance-free formula features three essential ceramides, amino acids and hyaluronic acid, which work together to help maintain the skin barrier and lock in moisture.

Buy on Amazon $18

CeraVe Smoothing Cleanser

A gentle salicylic acid cleanser can help exfoliate and smooth your skin while also effectively removing oil and dirt, sweeping away dead cells, and softening rough skin—without leaving skin feeling dry. Cleansing with CeraVe Renewing SA Cleanser, a salicylic acid cleanser enhanced with barrier-restoring ingredients like ceramides, can help keep moisture in while keeping irritants out.

Buy on Amazon $19

VOGUE article

7 Simple Winter Skincare Rules To Put Into Practice Now

Ah yes, it’s winter again. Forget your bones, you can probably feel it on your face, now home to dry, flaky skin. Seeking solace in a favourite face oil or moisturiser might seem like the only answer (and they can help, more on this later), but there are a number of other things to be aware of when it comes to your winter skincare regime. If you refuse to let your skin suffer as a result of plummeting temperatures this year, read British Vogue’s seven rules of winter skincare – they’re simpler than you might think.

Keep your skin barrier strong

“As we move into winter, our skin is exposed to variations in temperature and humidity, as well as wind and rain, which can place stress on our delicate skin barrier. It’s the perfect time to rethink your skincare routine to battle environmental stresses,” explains consultant dermatologist Dr Thivi Maruthappu. The key indicators of skin barrier disruption are tight, irritated, itchy, and dehydrated skin.

Even in the months when the weather is less temperamental, our skin barrier is subject to disruption – excess use of stripping skincare products and external aggressors like pollution can all affect it – but it’s especially important it’s looked after in winter. Look for skincare that contains ingredients like niacinamide (try Paula’s Choice Clinical 20% Niacinamide Treatment), which “increases ceramide production in the skin, is anti-inflammatory and fights uneven pigmentation”, explains Maruthappu, as well as ceramides themselves (check out CeraVe), lipids, and richer creams that lock moisture in.

Medik8’s new H.E.O. Mask is exactly the tonic for winter skin, as it contains humectants, emollients and occlusives in optimal ratios, to first deeply hydrate, and then lock in moisture. Use it once or twice a week to tackle dehydration and dryness. Maruthappu is also keen to point out that upping your intake of healthy fats helps moisturise the skin from within – look to her Instagram page for sources of barrier-boosting fatty acids. “Look after your skin barrier and it looks after you,” she says simply.

Nail your nighttime regime

It’s at night that our skin goes into repair and restore mode, so it’s key to get your evening skincare routine in check. Facialist Debbie Thomas recommends cleansing with a non-drying acid cleanser – “look for polyhydroxy acids (PHAs), as they are the kinder cousins of alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs)” – like Exuviance’s Gentle Cream Cleanser, and then following up with an active product. “I alternate retinol with peptides, which are the second most proven ingredient when it comes to skin health and regeneration after retinol, and then apply a ceramide-rich hydrator to seal in the actives and protect the skin,” she explains.

Thomas is quick to warn about retinol, however, and says that though you might assume winter is the best time to start using it, the skin is already prone to becoming irritated and dry in the cooler months, so it’s important to tread carefully. “It can take several weeks for the skin to acclimatise to retinol use – it’s common to experience some dryness and redness – so if your skin already goes this way in winter, the combination of both could be unbearable and difficult to deal with. My main advice is not to overdo it.” Those already using retinol can continue as normal.

Dial down the exfoliation

When flakes strike, sometimes it feels like the only route is to exfoliate them away. Actually, this can further impair the skin barrier, leading to more skin issues. “I tend to advise reducing the frequency of exfoliation to once or twice a week,” says Maruthappu, “And avoid combining physical exfoliants, like grainy scrubs, with chemical exfoliants, like alpha or beta hydroxy acids, as this can lead to redness and irritation – particularly if you are also using a retinoid product.” The secret? Don’t overdo it with your skincare – less (and gentle) is more.

Load up on antioxidants

One of the biggest challenges for our skin in winter is the constant changes in temperature – moving from the heat to the cold outside wreaks havoc on our skin. Spending time inside with less fresh air also has its issues: “Recycled air has more toxins in it and central heating removes water from the atmosphere, which in turn removes water from the skin,” explains Thomas, who is a big fan of keeping an air purifier in the room you spend the most time in to promote healthy skin.

Antioxidant-rich skincare is also important, as it helps defend the skin against micro-toxins caused by recycled air, as well as those from pollution, UV and blue light damage, all of which are very much real, even in the depths of winter. Look for ingredients like vitamin C, vitamin E, resveratrol and niacinamide.

Avoid oils if you’re oily

Don’t assume that the cold months mean you have to switch your favourite moisturisers for face oils. While drier skin types can benefit, oilier ones should steer clear. “I generally recommend face oils for those with dry skin, as oils tend to sit on the skin surface and prevent further moisture loss,” says Maruthappu. “But the added benefit of a separate moisturiser can help to moisturise deeper layers of the skin. I tend to advise against oils in oily or acne-prone skin, as this can trigger breakouts by causing further congestion.” Those with oily skins should instead stick to non-comedogenic formulas that contain ingredients like dimethicone, ceramides or hyaluronic acid.

Heavier isn’t necessarily better

Just as with oils, thick and heavy formulas aren’t always best for the skin – although they do have their place in some skincare regimes. Thick, nourishing balm cleansers are a wonderful way to treat skin to some pamper time – try Chantecaille Rose De Mai Cleansing Balm – but they won’t necessarily hydrate skin. “If you apply a lot of heavy products to the surface, your skin’s sensors read this as not requiring true hydration, so they won’t absorb the required water into the deeper layers of skin,” explains Thomas. “After a time, the deeper layers become lazy and unhealthy, which eventually means more dryness and more irritation on the upper layers.” To remedy this, look to lots of hydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acid (a popular one is Oskia’s Isotonic Hydra Serum), and squalane, and simply seal them in with good hydrators, as mentioned earlier. “The best way to hydrate your skin is from within, so drink lots of water too,” advises Thomas.

Vitamin D supplements are a must

If you’re already an avid British Vogue reader, you’ll know the importance of taking a vitamin D supplement in winter; most in the UK aren’t getting enough year-round, let alone in the colder months when the days are shorter and darker. It’s important for our skin, too. “Vitamin D is key for the skin’s defences,” says Thomas. “Inflammatory conditions, like acne, rosacea, and eczema often flare up when we are deficient in it.” On top of that, a lack of it can negatively affect our mood, causing further hormonal imbalances, and meaning our skin is infinitely more likely to misbehave.

VOGUE article

The Dos and Don’ts of Mixing Skincare Ingredients

So, you’re new to skincare. Or, maybe you’ve decided it’s time to take your routine to the next level with more than just a simple cleanser and moisturizer. Either way, you’ve done the research, read some online reviews, and stocked up on products in your budget that will treat your main areas of concern. Now, you just need to figure out whether the ingredients in all of these creams, serums, and masks work harmoniously.

Welcome to skincare mixology 101. Second to picking formulas for your skin type and issues, it’s important that all of the products in your routine compliment one another so you can actually see results. “Mixing ingredients without proper knowledge of how these ingredients work and what other ingredients they may interact with will be not only a waste of money, but also time. It can also lead to frustration if less than expected results are seen (or if the skin becomes irritated),” says Dr. Shari Marchbein, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City.

Skin irritation is another big factor to consider when curating the product lineup in your skincare routine. “Your skincare routine should include products that complement each other in order to avoid over-drying, over-exfoliating, or irritating the skin,” adds Dr. David Lortscher, board-certified dermatologist and CEO of Curology. “More is not always better.”

With the help of both dermatologists, INSTYLE editors have put together a complete guide of the dos and don’ts of mixing and matching the most popular skincare ingredients found in products.

Retinol

Ah, retinol. It’s one of the most revered skincare ingredients that dermatologists love to recommend. Also known as vitamin A, what makes retinol so great is that it promotes skin cell turnover, which can help improve the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, uneven skin texture, dark spots, and acne. The only catch? Retinol can be extremely irritating. “Retinol is an effective anti-aging ingredient, but can exacerbate skin dryness,” explains Dr. Lortscher.

Do Mix: Retinol with moisturizing ingredients like hyaluronic acid and ceramides as well as SPF.

“Make sure to moisturize; humectant ingredients like hyaluronic acid can draw and hold water molecules to the surface layers of your skin, while oil-based emollient ingredients help seal in moisture.” It’s also important to keep in mind that retinol can make you more sensitive to the sun.

“SPF should be worn religiously every day of the year, not only to prevent skin cancers, wrinkles and sun spots, but because many other ingredients we apply to our skin including retinol and retinoids can make the skin more sensitive to the sun,” says Dr. Marchbein.

Don’t Mix: Retinol with vitamin C, benzoyl peroxide, and AHA/BHA acids.

AHA and BHA acids are exfoliating, which can dry out skin and cause further irritation if your skincare routine already includes retinol.

As for benzoyl peroxide and retinol, they cancel each other out. “It is not recommended to use benzoyl peroxide and retinoids together as they can literally cancel each other out rendering them less effective,” explains Dr. Marchbein.

Vitamin C 

“Vitamin C protects the skin from oxidative free radical damage and works best in the morning,” says Dr. Marchbein. This ingredient also brightens the skin and can even lighten dark spots.

Do Mix: Vitamin C with antioxidants and SPF.

When vitamin C is used with other antioxidants like vitamin E, it can boost results and efficiency. The same goes for wearing vitamin C under sunscreen. “Vitamin C serums should always be layered under sunscreen because they compliment one another and will protect skin against UV damage,” explains Dr. Marchbein.

Don’t Mix: Vitamin C with retinol.

In contrast to vitamin C, retinol and retinoids build collagen and help repair the skin, so they’re best used overnight. Since vitamin C thrives in the daytime, it’s best to keep these ingredients separate from each other because they have such different functions.

AHA/BHA Acids 

Salicylic, glycolic, and lactic acids are all effective exfoliants that can improve skin texture, tone, and in the case of SA, treat acne. That being said, all three of these acids can dehydrate and irritate skin. The bottom line: When using products with AHA or BHA acids, follow up with a hydrating product.

Do Mix: AHA/BHA acids with moisturizing ingredients and SPF.

“Moisturizing after applying AHA and BHA is extremely important so as to limit irritation. Look for ceramides, petrolatum, hyaluronic acid, and glycerin to hydrate and soothe skin,” says Dr. Marchbein. Using a product that combines multiple low-level AHA and BHA acids can be an extremely effective way to exfoliate and unclog pores.

Like retinol, AHA/BHA acids can cause sun sensitivity. While you should be wearing sunscreen every day regardless of what products are in your skincare routine, it’s extra important to not skip this step when you’re using these ingredients.

Don’t Mix: AHA/BHA acids with retinol.

“I strongly caution those also using retinoids for acne or anti-aging as the combination with various acids may cause excessive skin sensitivity, irritation, and redness. In fact, AHA and BHA should not typically be used together with retinoids on the same day,” explains Dr. Marchbein. “Also, be careful combining various acids or even physical and chemical exfoliants, as this can lead to irritation and even eczema.”

Benzoyl Peroxide 

Benzoyl peroxide can be a game-changing addition to your skincare routine if you have acne-prone skin. The caveat? It’s another drying ingredient. “Because acne treatments in general can cause dryness and irritation of the skin, combining them together needs to be done with caution and every other part of the skincare routine (i.e. cleanser and moisturizers) need to be extremely gentle and ultra hydrating, respectively,” explains Dr. Marchbein.

Do Mix: Benzoyl Peroxide with gentle hydrating ingredients, SPF, and topical antibiotics.

Along with moisturizing ingredients that can buffer the dehydrating effects of benzoyl peroxide, the acne-fighting component can be used in conjunction with prescription topical treatments like clindamycin. SPF should also be worn every day.

Don’t Mix: Benzoyl peroxide with retinol, acne prescription tretinoin with caution.

As previously mentioned, benzoyl peroxide and retinol can deactivate one another when used together. While prescription acne treatments can be used with BP, tretinoin requires extra care.

Dr. Lortscher explains: “Depending upon how the product is formulated, benzoyl peroxide may inactivate tretinoin somewhat if they are mixed together in the same bottle. They do appear to work just fine in our experience, when applied to the skin one after the other — and it does not matter in which order, just rub one product in gently and completely before applying the other,” he says. “If you want to minimize any chance of interaction if you are using tretinoin, apply the tretinoin-containing formulation in the PM, and use your benzoyl peroxide in the AM, or use a wash-off benzoyl peroxide cleanser rather than layering a leave-on benzoyl peroxide.”

Niacinamide 

Otherwise known as vitamin B3, this antioxidant is an anti-inflammatory that can brighten skin and even out discoloration.

Do Mix: Niacinamide with (almost) every ingredient in your skincare routine.

“Because niacinamide is anti-inflammatory, the skin reacts very minimally to it, and side effects such as irritation are unusual,” Dr. Lortscher explains. “It should be compatible with most other skincare products, and for best results, use a leave-on product such as a moisturizer.”

Don’t Mix: Niacinamide and vitamin C.

Although they’re both antioxidants, vitamin C is one ingredient that’s not compatible with niacinamide. “Both are very common antioxidants used in a variety of skincare products, but they should not be used one right after the other,” says Dr. Marchbein. “Their potency is significantly diminished when used together, unless application is spaced by at least 10 minutes between each serum.”

SPF

If you’re going to use one skincare product, make it SPF. It’s the only way to effectively protect skin from cancer and environmental aggressors, which can lead to premature signs of aging. Given its importance, SPF can be layered over any skincare ingredient.

Do Mix: SPF can (and should) be used in any and every skincare routine.

Don’t Mix: SPF with makeup or moisturizers.

Yes, SPF can feel like an extra step in an already-extensive skincare routine, but don’t try to take shortcuts. “Don’t mix your sunscreen with your makeup or moisturizer and apply as one—sunscreen should be applied as a single layer to preserve the protection factors,” says Dr. Lortscher.

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